History was written at the Beijing National Stadium last night as Pamela Jelimo and Brimin Kipruto won Kenya’s first gold medals at the Olympic Games in spectacular fashion.
Jelimo becomes the first Kenyan woman to win a gold medal at the Olympics, a rather strange statistic given the country’s dominance in athletics over the years.
World champion Brimin Kipruto cruised to victory in the 3,000 metres steeplechase race to maintain a rich Kenyan tradition that started in 1968 when Amos Biwott won the country’s first ever steeplechase gold at the Mexico Olympics in a race that saw Benjamin Kogo complete a Kenyan 1-2 finish.
Kenya has won all Olympic titles in the race since then, apart from the 1976 and 1980 Games in Montreal and Moscow, which Kenya boycotted.
Kenya is the highest placed African nation in 18th place with two gold, three silver and two bronze medals. Ethiopia lie 24th with two gold and one silver while Zimbabwe are 30th on the log with one gold and three silver medals. All of Zimbabwe’s medals were won by swimmer Kirsty Coventry.
The 18-year-old Jelimo’s winning time of one minute 54.87 seconds in the 800 metres thriller was also a world junior record. Kenya’s world champion, Janeth Jepkosgei, who set the early pace for Jelimo in front of a screaming crowd of 91,000 before Jelimo took charge in the last 400 metres, won the silver medal in 1:56.07.
The Kenya Police runner dedicated her win to her mother, Rhoda Jeptoo Keter, a former athlete herself and a mother of nine who hails from Nandi district.
“I’m so happy. Its unbelievable. I wanted to reach the final and now that I have won the gold it’s really great for my family and great for Kenya,” Jelimo said.
“We planned to run as a team and bring the medals with Janeth and I’m happy things went the right way. I dedicate my medal to my mother and to all Kenyans and I urge parents to encourage their children to take up sports along with education… I would not be here if my mother did not encourage me to run,” she added.
Jepkosgei said they had planned their strategy well ahead of the race. “I told her that since she was the stronger one between us, she should just attack the race and go all the way,” Jepkosgei, who won the world championships gold medal in Osaka, Japan, last year said.
“I’m happy the race went that way and I’m also happy that Brimin Kipruto won the steeplechase gold medal. It’s a great night for Kenya.”
On Sunday, Kenya won its first two medals of the 29th Olympic Games which end next Wednesday when Catherine Ndereba and Eunice Jepkorir finished second to take silvers in the marathon and the 3,000 metres steeplechase respectively.
Today, Augustine Choge and Asbel Kiprop will be looking to get more medals for Kenyan when they compete in the 1,500 metres final.
Dickson Wamwiri and Milkah Akinyi begin their competitions in the taekwondo tomorrow morning.
Kenya was also represented in swimming, bowing and rowing at these games.
It was 9.20 pm Beijing time (4.20 pm Kenyan time) when Kipruto crossed the finish line to win the steeplechase, his arms spread out in jubilation after clinching the Olympic title in eight minutes, 10.34 seconds with fellow Kenyan Richard Mateelong finishing third to take the bronze medal in 8:11.01.
Former Algerian Frenchman Mahiedine Maekhissi-B spoilt the Kenyan party by outsprinting Mateelong to take the silver medal, although his extraordinary performance raised eyebrows among athletics analysts here, who have never seen him perform at top level steeplechase competitions before.
“I feel great. I knew it was my race and I knew if I was in the leading group with 200 metres to go, I would beat anybody,” the 23-year-old, who became the youngest athlete to win a medal in an Olympic steeplechase race when he won silver at the 2004 Games in Athens, said.
“I was inspired to take up athletics by watching the performances of people like former world record holder Moses Kiptanui winning. I wanted it to be a clean Kenyan 1-2-3 sweep but unfortunately the Frenchman came between us. It is strange because I have never seen this man or competed against him before,” Kipruto added.
Further Kenyan medals are expected in the men and women’s 1,500 and 5,000 metres races this week and in the men’s marathon on the last day of the Games on Sunday. Wamwiri is also one of the Games’ dark horses in the taekwondo competition where he has a good chance of a top three finish.
The wins prompted huge celebrations across the country and a ferver of patriotism as Kenyans united in celebrating the medals.
From Nairobi to Mombasa, Kisumu to Nyeri to Eldoret and Nakuru, Kenyans who were glued to their television sets broke into celebrations as the athletes romped home to give the country the first gold medals of the Beijing Games.
Prime Minister Raila Odinga was among the first to send his congratulatory message.
“I was thrilled along with all Kenyans to learn of Pamela Jelimo and Brimin Kipruto’s feats in winning gold medals for our country at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing,” said Raila in a statement.
“I wish to also congratulate the other champions who won silver and bronze medals yesterday. Surely more medals are on the way.
“Some Kenyans might be tempted to take this great success in their stride, since we always win Olympic gold and other medals in track events. But the reality is that each medal is a result of painful and long lasting commitment and discipline. No less important, each year the competition for medals gets harder.
“So I salute our dear athletes in Beijing, who have done us proud with their victories. I also salute our other athletes, who have given their best for the country and won us praise on the world stage as true sportsmen and sportswomen,” the statement said.
In Mombasa, Bobby Onjiko, a watch repairer who had dashed to Club Rio to watch the two races, was ecstatic about the results.
“They have done us proud in China and we expect more gold medals before the Olympics are over. Although the economy is hard, these athletes should be given something by every Kenyan of goodwill,” said Onjiko.
David Ndau, a taxi driver who abandoned his taxi and rushed to watch the races, was emphatic about Kenya as a running nation.
“Kenya has stamped its authority as a powerhouse in the athletics by that incredible performance. The way Jelimo ran reminds you of the gazelle in our wildlife reserves.”
Patrick Ochieng, a guard with Guard Force, said he was proud to be a Kenyan. “Seeing what our athletes have done today is wonderful,” he said.
There was celebration Eldoret town after the victory.
Kapsabet, the home town for Jelimo and Chepkosgei, also broke into celebration. Former steeplechase champion Moses Kiptanui said he watched Kipruto winning the gold and was happy.
“What else can I say, it is just happiness,” Kiptanui said. He said he was also happy after Jelimo and Jepkosgei crossed the finish line in the first and second position. “If the remaining athletes remain focused, we shall get at least four golds,” Kiptanui said.
Uasin Gishu Athletics Kenya (AK) spokesman John Kiptum was all joy saying there was immense talent in the country which needed to be tapped.
“The pace set by Jelimo and Brimin Kipruto is a challenge to the remaining athletes,” Kiptum said.
Athletic fan Richard Yegon, working in a blue chip company, said Kenya was on its way rekindling its lost glory.
“If my age could have allowed, I could have joined athletics since it is one straight way to riches,” he said.
Eliud Wafula said though he was proud of the athletes raising the Kenyan flag high, the standards of other games were wanting.
“We only get our pride from athletics, does it mean that we don’t prepare well in other games like boxing?” he asked.
Wafula said though the country had done well in giving each constituency Sh1 million to invest in sports, more needed to be done.
“We have never ventured in javelin while our history books taught us that the Maasai were good in throwing it.”